The Chaitanya Charitamrita is one of the primary biographies detailing the life and teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1533), a Vaisnava saint and founder of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya. It was written by Krishna Das Kaviraja (b1496), primarily in the Bengali language, but also including a great number of Sanskrit verses within its devotional, poetic construction. Intertwined with the stories of Caitanya Mahaprabhu's life are philosophical conversations detailing the process of Bhakti yoga, with special attention given to congregational chanting of Krishna's names and the Hare Krishna mantra.
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The Chaitanya Caritamrta is divided into three sections: the Adi-lila, Madhya-lila and Antya-lila. Each section refers to a particular phase in Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's life:
The Adi-lila explains Caitanya's unique theological identity as an Avatar of Krishna in the mood of Radharani (a combined avatar of both personalities), his personal lineage, his closest childhood companions and their paramparas (disciplic succession), and the characters of his devotional associates. This section ends with a brief summary of Caitanya's life up to his acceptance of sannyasa (the renounced order of life).
The Madhya-lila details Caitanya Mahaprabhu's sannyasa pastimes; the life of Madhavendra Puri; a philosophical conversation with the Advaitin scholar Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya (wherein the supremacy of bhakti is promoted by Mahaprabhu against the arguments of impersonal advaita); Caitanya’s pilgrimage to South India; examples of the daily and annual activities of Caitanya and his devotees during the Ratha-yatra festival of Jagannatha near the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha; their observance of other festivities; and his detailed instructions on the process of Bhakti Yoga to both Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami.
The Antya-lila gives a survey of the devotional plays composed by Rupa Goswami, activities of various devotees and occasional critics and their interactions with Caitanya; Caitanya’s interactions with Raghunatha dasa Goswami, and Jagadananda; Caitanya's increasing experience of the searing agony of separation from Krishna (viraha or vipralambha bhava) and concludes with the famous Siksastaka (eight verses of poetic instruction), the only thing personally written by Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu himself.
Composition of the Chaitanya Charitamrita
Although the author, Krishna Dasa Kaviraja, never met Caitanya personally, his guru Raghunatha dasa Goswami (1494–1586 CE) was an associate of Caitanya and was close to others who were intimates of his. In composing his work, Krishna Dasa Kaviraja also referred to the shrIkr^ShNachaitanyacharaNAmr^ta of Murari Gupta and also the works of Swarupa Damodara, both of whom knew Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Krishna Dasa Kaviraja composed the Caitanya Caritamrta in his old age after being requested by the Vaishnavas of Vrindavana to write a hagiography about the life of Caitanya. Although there was already a biography written by Vrindavana Dasa, called the Chaitanya Bhagavata, the later years of Caitanya’s life were not detailed in that work. Krishna Dasa’s Caitanya Caritamrta covers Caitanya’s later years and also explains in detail the rasa philosophy that Caitanya and his followers expounded. The Caitanya Caritamrta also serves as a compendium of Gaudiya Vaishnava practices and outlines the Gaudiya theology developed by the Goswamis in metaphysics, ontology and aesthetics.
The Caitanya Caritamrta was frequently copied and widely circulated amongst the Vaishnava communities of Bengal and Odisha during the early 17th Century. Its popularity during this period can be attributed to the propagation of three Vaishnava preachers called Narottama Dasa, Shyamananda and Srinivasa who were trained by Jiva Goswami and Krishna Dasa Kaviraja himself. However, during the 18th Century, copies of the Caitanya Caritamrta became rare. In his autobiography, Kedarnatha Dutta Bhaktivinoda writes that for many years he found it difficult to procure a copy of the book. Upon finally finding a copy of the Caritamrta, Bhaktivinoda reprinted it along with his Amrita Pravaha commentary. After his death, his son Bimala Prasada (later to become known as Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati) printed the Caitanya Caritamrita en masse. He also wrote his Anubhasya commentary to this book.
In the 1970s Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s disciple A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON (also known as the Hare Krishna movement), popularised the Caitanya Caritamrta in the West. He published a deluxe 17-volume English edition of the work through his Bhaktivedanta Book Trust with his own commentary based upon the Amrita Pravaha and Anubhasya commentaries of Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. This edition has been distributed in mass quantities worldwide and is the best-known and most influential English-language edition of Caitanya Caritamrta today.
- Caitanya Caritamrta 1.17.174-215
- Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta (Bengali), Published by Sri Chaitanya Matha, Kolkata, W.Bengal, 1992.
- Chaitanya Charitamrita : Edition of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada Online
- Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh